By David Torrance

Today the leaders of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Scottish Labour Party and the Scottish Conservatives gathered at the National Monument on Edinburgh’s Calton Hill to mark their joint support for more powers in the event of a ‘no’ vote.

The aim is an obvious one: in the face of cynicism from the Scottish Government, which seems likely to be reflected by at least a sizeable minority of the electorate, the three Unionist parties are seeking to demonstrate that they’re serious about continuing the devolution journey should a majority of Scots reject independence this September.

Yet the choice of venue for this afternoon’s photo-call perhaps wasn’t a wise one. A memorial to the Scottish soldiers and sailors who died fighting in the Napoleonic Wars it was intended, according to its inscription, to be ‘A Memorial of the Past and Incentive to the Future Heroism of the Men of Scotland’.

Modelled on the Parthenon in Athens, construction began in 1826 but due to lack of funds it was left unfinished little more than three years later, giving rise to various nicknames such as the ‘Pride and Poverty of Scotland’ and ‘Edinburgh’s Folly’. The SNP (or Yes Scotland) press release almost writes itself.

But however unfortunate the historical associations, I’ve always believed that this ‘joint declaration’ is a serious exercise. The Unionist parties, particularly the Conservatives, are acutely aware that the events of 1979 – Lord Home, ‘vote no for a better Bill’, etc – are (however overplayed) damaging even 35 years later.

Thus repeated promises by the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, Deputy Prime Minister and the three Scottish party leaders that between the referendum and the 2016 Holyrood elections they – or rather whoever is in power after the 2015 UK general election – will endeavour to agree, legislate for and deliver ‘more powers’ as quickly as possible.

Naturally the SNP is relentlessly cynical about such pledges, for it realises that if enough voters believe the offer then a majority ‘yes’ vote becomes a lot less likely, if not impossible. On last Sunday’s Andrew Marr programme, for example, Alex Salmond said ‘the only guarantee of getting more powers is to vote Yes on 18 September’.

‘Anything else is in the grace and favour of the unionist parties,’ he added, ‘and they have got form in these sort of things.’ Predictably, he pointed to the 1979 devolution referendum when a narrow majority of Scots voted for an Assembly but instead got ‘18 years of Margaret Thatcher’s government’ (although he conveniently forgets that the SNP’s then MPs ensured the election took place earlier than necessary). Salmond, however, also has ‘form’ in predicting broken pledges, famously asserting in the mid-1990s that Labour couldn’t ‘deliver a pizza let alone a parliament’.

With that in mind, the First Minister told Marr, ‘we would be very foolish to rely on promises from unionist parties’. Curiously, he also went on to say there was ‘no doubt’ the Scottish Parliament had, since 1999, ‘accumulated substantially more power’, which of course contradicted his earlier point about 1979. Indeed, the reliance on ‘1979 and all that’ to undermine contemporary pledges of ‘more powers’ is beginning to wear a bit thin, for in the late 1990s and early 2010s promises by, respectively, Labour and the Conservatives did, in fact, become legislative reality.

‘You might actually argue that we have had a 100-year process of power being devolved to Scotland,’ observed Salmond in an historical frame of mind, ‘and perhaps in the next 100 days we can complete that journey.’ As he’ll be fully aware, much of that devolution was administrative rather than legislative, and much of it was delivered by Unionist and Conservative administrations, again undermining his own argument.

Nevertheless there’s a feint whiff of fudge emanating from today’s Calton Hill Declaration. ‘Despite the differences that divide us on the kind of society we want to see,’ read a Scotland on Sunday piece signed by all three Unionist party leaders yesterday, ‘on this we are clear: Scotland is better off as part of the United Kingdom, the United Kingdom is better off with Scotland in it.’

It continues on a humble note: ‘We all will admit, for different reasons, that the UK has got some things wrong,’ conceded the trio, ‘but we learn and build together,’ noting that the Union had always been an evolving one, allowing ‘the space and freedom for the nations within it to prosper and thrive’: ‘We live in the same house, but this has never been a country that has demanded we conform to the same house rules.’

After a reassertion of the sovereignty of the Scottish people (as Gordon Brown recently – and correctly – observed, old-fashioned concepts of undiluted Westminster sovereignty are ‘dead and buried’), they naturally turned to what might happen in the event of a ‘no’ vote: ‘For we are now clear: a No vote does not mean no change. A No vote opens the door to more powers for Scotland.’

At this point the fudge becomes noticeable: ‘While the details of our plans differ,’ read the joint statement, ‘they all include a commitment to drive more taxation and more social protection to Holyrood. We all believe that the parliament needs to have more responsibility over the money it raises, not just the money it spends, in order to create a more mature politics in Scotland.’

Now this is true, but it’s also conveniently vague. In truth, Labour’s unexpectedly modest devo proposals (themselves the consequence of an internal fudge), have actually made cross-party agreement harder. The Lib Dems and Tories are on broadly the same quasi-federal page, but Labour is more reticent.

‘We do not hide the fact that we have different visions; in a democracy, that is only healthy,’ added the three Unionist leaders. ‘Then all three of us have said we will legislate as soon as possible afterwards, on the basis of people’s consent. No ifs, no buts – we are all committed to deliver.’ On this point, Nationalist cynicism is a little hypocritical, for while Yes Scotland portrays its differing visions (socialist, green, etc) as a strength, similar differences under the Better Together umbrella are presented as a weakness. Supporters of independence cannot have it both ways.

The proof, of course, will be in the devolutionary pudding, but such is the strength of the ‘more powers’ pledges from the three opposition parties – and the unequivocal nature of related comments from Cameron et al (in contrast to Lord Home’s rather vague remarks in February 1979) – failing to deliver in the event of a ‘no’ vote would be politically risky. For those tiring of hearing about 1979, ‘2014’ would quickly replace it as a date that will live in infamy, the ultimate example of constitutional duplicity – and rightly so.


Adrian B
2014-06-16 15:49

Calton Hill is a well known folly – it seems the Unionist are perhaps not aware of this fact. Alistair Darling has made a number of launches from the same place and does anyone actually remember what they were for?

It is interesting that the three stooges stood on Carlton Hill and made promises that they have no power to keep, they are not able to even agree what that these new mythical powers might be.

As Thatcher said in ’79 – vote no for more powers.

“quasi-federal page” – you will need to forgive me but that means”Apparently but not really; seemingly” from the dictionary definition seems quite apt to the way that the unionists are conducting their more powers offer.

Good luck selling that to the scots.
2014-06-16 16:11

We should not be cajoled by the “Scottish” Unionists. They are all part of different parties who have an overwhelming majority in this Disunited Kingdom – 10 to 1 at the last count, and they will not be magnanimous if they win. One thing they are desperate for is a No vote and they will promise us the earth to get this.
2014-06-16 16:27

With humble apologies to Shakespeare

Thunder and lightning.

Enter three WITCHES.

First Witch

When shall we three meet again?
In blunder, darkness, or insane?

Second Witch

When the referendum’s done,
When the battle’s lost, not won.

Third Witch

That will be ere the 19th.

First Witch

Where the place?

Second Witch

On Calton Hill

Third Witch

There to meet with Cameron .

First Witch

Here comes Irn Broon!

Second Witch

The House of Lords calls

Third Witch



Fair is foul, and foul is fair:
Hover through the fog and filthy air.

2014-06-16 23:41

excellent…all of the comments here confirm that this lot are just wolves in sheeps clothing and their intensions are exactly the opposite to what they say. Devo nothing and using our revenues to their own gain, while destroying Scotland is what they really intend, pull the other one and take a hike, the people of Scotland are no daft!

Marga B
2014-06-16 16:27

“we learn and build together” – come on, sir, that’s just not what today’s UK is about. Not in England, not in Scotland, not in Wales. Dismantle together, yes.

I haven’t seen anything as cynical since in full privatisation mode, they wheeled out the NHS nurses en masse during the Olympics opening ceremony.

Mr Torrance, today apparently a Scottish constitutional draft has been launched. That’s more like it, getting something enshrined in law, not a reheated Calman Agreement – how much of Calman has been implemented, by the way? Maybe being abroad I’ve missed it.
2014-06-16 16:36

Until such time that it is written into law at Westminster that Scotland will get more powers I will not believe anything the 3 Leaders in Scotland say as they are just pawns in the game,it always will be the same so the only answer is Yes.
2014-06-16 17:27

And remember that the only thing a government can’t do, is to tie the hands of the next government. So even if new powers were written into law by this administration, all you would need is a snap election, new government, and back to square one, no new powers. They do think our heads button up the back.

2014-06-16 17:04

I just heard that the police are to investigate the abuse towards J K Rowling why not one into the abuse of Mr & Mrs Weir.
2014-06-16 17:10

Why won’t they give the Scots parliament control over oil and whisky revenues?
2014-06-16 17:12

So people who are not members of the body who would have to pass these “more powers” and so have no authority, have committed that powers they can’t agree on will be delivered. But they won’t be in any manifesto. They have to be agreed after the event.

The Unionist parties had three years to discuss and agree proposals, to get a bill before Westminster and get it enacted so we would be voting on two different proposals.

First they refused a Devo-Max option on the ballot paper, then they said no more powers (remember the “line in the sand”), then they separately produce sets of proposals which range from laughable to absurd, and now finally, they come “together” with a joint proposal for three different outcomes, none of which is guaranteed, all of which is subject to the agreement of English MPs who will be severely p*ssed off at the Scots and won’t agree to a second prize.

And this is a “whiff of a fudge”. More like the stink of a pile of crap.
2014-06-16 17:14

Glossing over the Salmond cynicism, draw up a list of all the things we can do for ourselves with devolved powers, and offset it against a list of the things we can’t.
Offset the $600 billion Oil Fund the Norwegians have amassed, and offset that against our ‘share’ of £1.5TRILLION debt delivered by criminal bankers and rabid Neo-Liberalism.
That will give a measure of how successful devolution has been. I look forward to our 20th anniversary of independence to provide a much more telling indictment of devolution.

As for Devowhateveryou  callit, Alex Salmond and every other citizen has every right to be cynical of these half baked proposals borne from no higher principle than expedient necessity. If the Unionists were serious, they blew their golden opportunity to have DevoMAX put on the ballot. They made their bed…
2014-06-16 17:14

I think the unionist parties hatred of the SNP will over ride anything and everything they propose for Scotland in the future. What they forget though is that Scottish aspirations put the SNP where they are today, make no mistake. Why did the unionist parties fight so hard to take the choice of devo max away from Scot`s? They want Scotland to get what they think we should have. We`ll get what we want by voting YES, it`s as simple as that.
2014-06-16 17:33

If British nationalists believe more devolution is such a great idea why is that option missing from the ballot paper?
2014-06-16 17:52

I consider the coming together of the main unionist parties as anything but important. There is nothing that vaguely resembles devo max/FFA and anyone who considers what is on offer as having any merit or significance for the Scottish electorate is frankly gravely mistaken.

Does anyone seriously think these parties would be coming together now if there was still a twenty five point spread in the polls as last year? Their statement reeks of desperation, duress and dishonesty. Had they taken the Scottish electorate at all seriously or given them the respect they deserve this current initiative should perhaps have been Westminster/Better Together’s starting point.

That it was not speaks volumes on the issue of honesty and trust where they are concerned. Not ever again.
2014-06-16 18:42

And Joanne Johann Lamont tells us that it’s good for parties to come together and agree where they can – what a load of bollocks otherwise the Labour Party would have stood shoulder to shoulder with the Scottish Government on several issues over the last 7 years.

Never trust a Unionist, these three tend to forget they have no clout, it would need to be guaranteed by Dave, Ed, NIck and Nigel cause am damned sure he will have a say in the next UK general election.
2014-06-16 19:39

although he conveniently forgets that the SNP’s then MPs ensured the election took place earlier than necessary).
Was there any need for this in the article Mr Torrance?
Today at the Edinburgh Folly Ruth Davidson was not talking about extra powers but more accountability, 
Eg to become Westminster’s tax collector only.
Westminster nor their unionist plaxemen and women in Scotland can be trusted.
Alan Gordon
2014-06-16 20:05

The Declaration of Calton Hill.
Should read
The Desparation of Calton Hill.
The only reason that the 3 ( No Thanks) party leaders are forced to be there at all is because the yes vote is soaring and most likely well ahead now, ( yes I know what the opinion polls say) but I think the momentum for yes is now is well nigh unstoppable, so the Calton three can promise all they like, we are going to win.
2014-06-16 20:38

Aye right. Scratches buttons on back of head.
2014-06-16 21:50

And your point is caller?
Three charlatans in search of a scruple trying to cobble together what?…another con/dem bread and circus show for mug punters.

Forgive me Mr Torrance, but if you had lived through the last thirty five years of Unionist lies, as an adult, not as a naïve academic product of the noughties, then you would also be ‘relentlessly cynical about such pledges’.

They are hollow men and women, without substance, credibility or honour..don’t dignify them with a critique.

Instead, focus on the possibility of a new with vision, hope and justice not on talking corpses mouthing meaningless clichés.
2014-06-17 07:58

Torrence makes the point ” the three Unionist parties are seeking to demonstrate that they’re serious about continuing the devolution journey “

Well, I am sure as he further points out
” Nevertheless there’s a feint whiff of fudge emanating from today’s Calton Hill Declaration. “

Well there is rather more than a “whiff”
add in desperation please.

Scotland will NEVER get anything like what we need for our country. The Unionist could never delivery for Scotland in reality, the do not have the collective ideology or will to do so. Scotland is a pesky region to them, and a cash cow.

Further, they are well aware that rules can and would be undermined by the unelected house of Lords.

They simply want to steal Scottish votes, and will say anything ( as we have seen )
to thwart Scottish Democracy.
They cannot be trusted, not in this world.
2014-06-17 08:40

(although he conveniently forgets that the SNP’s then MPs ensured the election took place earlier than necessary)

And David Torrance conveniently forgets that the 11 SNP votes were completely overshadowed by the 300 Conservative votes in that Vote of No Confidence that ended Labour’s government, and which brought forward that election by only a few months, and there was no way Labour would get back into power in either election.

He also forgets that the SNP’s disillusionment with Labour was entirely due to Labour’s arrogance in ruling Independence out from any discussion in their Constitutional Commission, rather than allow the CC debate itself to rule it out.

Labour’s confidence in free debate hasn’t changed at all in that respect.
Jo Bloggs
2014-06-17 10:42

“…in the face of cynicism from the Scottish government.” That’s really rich David. If you want some cynicism, I’d suggest you need look no futher than the clowns assembled on Calton Hill yesterday.
2014-06-17 17:48

Quoting Jo Bloggs:

“If you want some cynicism, I’d suggest you need look no futher than the clowns assembled on Calton Hill yesterday.

If Mr T wants some cynicism, he need look no further than a mirror.


2014-06-17 11:28

What I find very deceptive is Mr Rennie postulating on the Liberals’ proposals.

Maybe if he signs a public pledge – a la Nick Clegg – we might almost believe it.

A vague pledge from a political party which has become a nonentity – by their deeds shall all men know the.
Nigel Mace
2014-06-17 16:45

Quite why Newsnet supplies a platform for Torrance, who pontificates with sinuous evasions and manipulations of the real state of Scottish politics every week in the Herald, I cannot understand. We have to endure a virtually 100% anti-independence MSM as it is; there is a positive need for sources like Newsnet NOT to give up its precious space to more of the same. The so-called Calton whatever-they-call-it is – we know, not just suspect – lies. This trio who have no power to deliver anything now or later are the Scottish leaders of parties all of whom could have legislated for ‘Devo-somthing’ years ago – but did not. Their parties made sure there was no ‘Devo-blank’ on September’s ballot paper because they knew, from all the polls, that it would win with ease, thus forcing them to pass the legislation that they had never produced when they could have. Their double inaction then – means that we all know that they are lying now.
2014-06-17 21:14

I’m not Newsnet, who can speak for themselves, but Mr Torrance posting here does two things.

First, it is helpful to see and understand what the Unionists are thinking. Unionism isn’t contagious, but as the saying goes, keep your friends close but your enemies closer. You don’t have to like what he says, but ask yourself whether you’d have a fair chance to react to what he says in the comments section of the newspaper.

Second, having a Unionist post articles here gives Newsnet a degree of diversity so it cannot be pigeonholed and readily dismissed as a pro independence fanzine.

Be articulate, measured, and succinct in debunking what Mr Torrance has to say, because genuinely undecided voters can read the text and comments and calmly learn something constructive. Newsnet is providing you, and them, that opportunity.

2014-06-18 14:01

I went to school in Central Edinburgh in the 1960s and seem to remember the national monument being called Scotland’s Disgrace. Appropriate in view of the unionist individuals pictured below it.

It’s probably true that some minor and inconsequential ‘powers’ will come to the parliament in the event of a No vote. Eventually. After suitable government commissions and committees. Meantime the parliament will be screwed down hard to make sure it never threatens the British state again. And the Barnett Formula will be scrapped to give us even less pocket money. Forget about access to oil revenues, no future for Scotland after a No vote. Mr Torrance is just another unionist propagandist.
Neimo Fakir
2014-06-18 18:26

“although he conveniently forgets that the SNP’s then MPs ensured the election took place earlier than necessary”

Perhaps Mr Torrance is ‘conveniently forgetting’ that this was a Labour Government who had introduced the 40% rule into the 1979 referendum which the SNP opposed. How can SNP MPs of the time then, in good faith, support a Westminster Govt so opposed to what was a key issue for them?

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